Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tyler's Best and Worst Films of 2012

There are still a lot of films from 2012 I have yet to see, but that year is now over and out of what I did see here are my Favourite Films of 2012, which this year is a Top 12 because I just couldn't whittle it down. Surprisingly enough, it also seems 2012 was the Year of the Documentary.

12. Django Unchained (2012) United States
Quentin Tarantino's Southern western is a beautiful, brutal, and violent homage to the spaghetti western revenge set-up with a large dose of America's dark past with slavery and a small dash of German folklore. Keeping with tradition and his ecstatically large style, Tarantino writes very large but important characters that are all played to perfection by the large ensemble cast, with many small cameos as well as returning favourites, with everyone chewing up the dialogue in such an enjoyable way - Waltz and DiCaprio especially. Not without it's pitfalls though, mainly due to the large amount of characters and the lack of time spent with some, Django Unchained could have almost benefited from going the 2-movie route ala Kill Bill, assuming there was probably a large amount of footage left on the cutting room floor to make the single film's nearly three-hour runtime. But despite this, and an almost too hurried and neatly wrapped up third-act, Django Unchained is a vastly entertaining film from a master filmmaker who's style always verges on homage yet somehow remaining wholly unique.

11. Antiviral (2012) Canada
Brandon Cronenberg emerges as a new force in the body horror cannon perpetuated by his father, and with a style that speaks directly of early David Cronenberg. And here that is not a rip-off but something that's truly in their family blood. Expertly crafted, Antiviral is an increasingly uncomfortable excursion into the disease of celebrity and the price to which society pays for crumbling to idol worship. Narratively vague, Antiviral spills out it's pieces like dumping a puzzle box letting the audience pick up what they see on their own. Nothing is handed to the audience, and if you lose your balance you will not know what the hell is going on, and here this approach works beautifully; providing the audience the true sense of alienation that the film's characters now feel in their own skin. Its antiseptic colour palette and sheen both intensify its grotesqueness as well as perpetuate the uncleanness this society has projected upon itself, shot immaculately by cinematographer Karim Hussain. To compare it to his father's work Brandon Cronenberg continues the theme of the new flesh, but here we take from others so that we can feel whole and connected. Haunting and ugly, Antiviral is a meticulously beautiful horror film for those who want to be challenged by cinema.

10. Miss Bala (2011) Mexico
Taut and unflinching, Miss Bala is a downward spiral of loss and dashed hope about poverty, politics, and the brutality of the drug smuggling industry. With it's harsh and realistic portrayal of cartel violence and workings, director Gerardo Naranjo creates a disturbing and emotionally absorbing film with long lingering shots, minimal dialogue, and a depiction of an industry where invisible borders and patrols watch your every move and from which there is no escape. Powerful filmmaking and one of the year's best.

9. Into the Abyss (2011) United States/UK/Germany
Werner Herzog takes his distinct style and here examines a Texas murder case and the politics of the death penalty. With no agenda other than to show all sides of a horrible tragedy, Into the Abyss is really an examination into the fragility of humanity and the nearly invisible line between life and death, regret and redemption.

8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) United States
Tantalizing and beautifully photographed documentary about perfectionist sushio chef Jiro Ono. This joyous documentary takes a look at one of the world's most renowned sushi chefs and a master of the craft as he prepares his son to continue his legacy. Will leave your mouth watering!

7. Stories We Tell (2012) Canada
Stories We Tell breaks new ground in documentary filmmaking and Sarah Polley crafts a fascinating, absorbing, and gripping film that effortlessly combines interviews, old family Super8 footage, as well as fictionalized re-creations of the events as they unfold resulting in a visually stimulating experience. Deeply touching, Stories We Tell not only becomes the telling of the Polley family's secrets, but a documentary about how and why we tell stories, and the importance of family histories and the characters and events, whether comic, tragic, or both, that enrich our lives. Absolutely astounding filmmaking!

6. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) United Kingdom
Lynne Ramsay's brilliant adaptation of Lionel Shriver's haunting and absorbing book is a cinematic tour de force. Tilda Swinton is at the top of her craft and embodies Eva Khatchadourian's empty life as she tries to rebuild and find answers after the 'incident' involving Kevin. Ramsay tackles the story much like the book; in fragments that reveal the characters and events which lead up to the present. Every little vignette captures subtleties and nuances from the pages of the book that thread this terrifying mystery even deeper. A tale of parenthood. A tale of motherhood. A tale of childhood. A tale of horror. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a masterpiece and one of the best book to film adaptations since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

5. The Master (2012) United States
Paul Thomas Anderson masterfully directs powerhouse performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman who transform themselves into two extremely torn and inquisitive people, each on a different end of the tipping scale. Everything else, from the remainder of the performances, to the score and cinematography, to the production design, is sweeping and fine tuned. Both tender and destructive in it's portrayal of human fragility, The Master is an exploration into the birth of cult thinking and the God-like nature of man to need to control and be controlled. The Master is a master work.

4. Samsara (2011) United States
Ron Fricke's follow up to Baraka is a breathtakingly profound cinematic experience unlike anything else you've seen with it's trance-inducing imagery for your retinas and brain that transports you into an almost outer-body experience, only for the fact that you're still in a theatre seat. Shot completely in 70mm, Samsara brings depth and focus to the beauty and ugliness of our world, never judging or saying anything, but just being an eye looking over the randomosity of life, a continuous flow of birth, death, beauty, nature, humanity, architecture, and everything in between. If you have a chance, see this in a theatre and sit as close to the screen as comfortably possible.

3. Lawless (2012) United States
The true story of the Boundarant brothers and bootlegging in the late '20s and early '30s as adapted by Nick Cave and the deft hand of John Hillcoat. Mesmerizing performances from the entire cast, beautiful cinematography, and a palpable sense of tension and unease throughout the entire film. No character is safe at anytime, and all are truly human. Masterful storytelling from Hillcoat and Cave who distinctly paint each character and location. Lawless is definitely one of the best films of 2012.

2. Pina (2011) Germany
Wim Wenders' love letter to Pina Bausch, the renowned German dancer, is a cinematic experience rich in emotions, stories, and memories all told through Pina's compositions, dance, and vignettes with students of Pina's school. Going beyond documentary and into the realm of art, the camera adds a depth that accentuates and heightens the live performance of the pieces. An astounding audio-visual experience.

1. Tabu (2012) Portugal
Split into two parts, Tabu tells first of Paradise Lost; the story of an older woman who's mental deterioration has her speaking of dreams as truths and signs of past memories. And in Paradise, we come to find out that the dreams existed and here unfolds the secrets of the old woman's life. A stunningly beautiful film which effortlessly blends mystery, a love story, and a county's history into a mesmerizing tale that itself plays out like a dream of inventive filmmaking. Grandiose performances that are both large and subtle paint a film that constantly engages, and director Miguel Gomes' well-prepared execution flawlessly unravels a story of loss, regret, and the sacrifices of love and pain.

Honourable mentions: Last Days Here (2011), Frankenweenie (2012), Intouchables (2011), Weekend (2011), In the Family (2011), Snowtown (2011), Keyhole (2011), Sound of My Voice (2011), Café de Flore (2011), The Sleeper (2012), Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present (2012), Seven Psychopaths (2012), Sinister (2012)

And now let's rip into the absolute Worst Films of 2012:

10. The Awakening (2011) United Kingdom
The Awakening is a cliched and heavily ham fisted ghost story that plays out far too much like a mash-up of The Sixth Sense and The Orphanage, borrowing too many plot similarities from both. While the visuals and acting are above average for the genre, the plotting, story, and reveals are both too abrupt and simply solved by the audience and not enough work was done to make anything about the story stand out. Far too predictable to be enjoyable, and when you're thinking of other movies that did both jobs better, you're left disinterested and bored by the time it's over.

9. V/H/S (2012) United States
V/H/S is a horror anthology that really has no proper connecting threads. While it actually only looks like one or two of the segments actually make use of the VHS aesthetic, the rest of the entries employ spy cameras in glasses, webcams (Skype) or higher-grade consumer cameras that post-date the VHS era. Rather than tell chilling tales with plots and payoff, V/H/S resorts to zero-attention span editing techniques that defeat the VHS method. While this approach is more reminiscent of home-movies it still fails at making a co-herent use of the anthology sub-genre. Really the only tale worth watching in this entire 2-hour mess is the final tape involving a haunted house on Halloween night.

8. You've Been Trumped (2011) United Kingdom
You've Been Trumped shows just how much of an asshole Donald Trump is and how much his company is just for profit as he bullies all those who get in his way, but all of this is exhibited in the first couple minutes of the film, or if you've seen the trailer it's all given away in those 2 and a half minutes. The focus of the documentary is obviously on the plight of the people in the sights of Trump's bulldozers but the same scenarios and situations are continually repeated and the film drags on and on and on, never really progressing past it's set up. Obviously life unfolds as it does, but at 1 hour and 40 minutes You've Been Trumped feels about 65 minutes too long. It states important information, but in a manner that doesn't execute the message to its proper effect. The comparisons to the film Local Hero however was a nice touch.

7. Down the Road Again (2011) Canada
Donald Shebib returns with a follow up to his seminal 1970's film that exhibited the harsh reality of chasing the Canadian dream. Now 41 years later Pete is on the verge of retirement in Vancouver when he discovers and inherits the urn of his now deceased friend Joey. So for Pete it's one last journey in the Chevy to reconnect with his past. Down the Road Again is a television quality production that piles on the sap and negates any of the real humanity the original film so expertly displayed. A huge letdown.

6. House at the End of the Street (2012) United States
Combining the not-scary-at-all scares of the '90s kids horror TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the characterizations of any American soap opera you get this abysmal film. House at the End of the Street is a lame, boring, and increasingly tame teeny-bopper PG-13 horror film. Obviously aimed at the junior level high school crowd the film operates on a play-it-safe rule basis, and even though the film deals with some darker material it still keeps everything neat, tidy, and safe. Watered down horror that should probably have premiered as a 'late night movie of the week' on YTV or Nickelodeon or something.

5. 21 Jump Street (2012) United States
Two bumbling cops get sent back to high school to infiltrate an underground drug ring and pull in the supplier. 21 Jump Street gets the dreaded Apatowian action-comedy make-over by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill which means it's all mid-level comedy with an overachieving and failing sense of sentimentality with dashes of hip action set-pieces. All of this leaves the film feeling highly forgettable, boring, unfunny, and uninspired.

4. [REC]³ Genesis (2012) Spain
[REC]³: Genesis is lazy and sloppy filmmaking. Paco Plaza, one of the two minds responsible for the actually well-scripted, scary, and inventive [REC] and [REC]², is left to his own here and drops the 'found footage' angle after the first 30 minutes into the film where the title card shows up late to the party and the series takes a turn at becoming a traditional film and annihilates the tense and personal aspects that made the first two films in the series such powerful entries into the modern horror genre. By taking the audience out of the experience [REC]³: Genesis becomes nothing more than a paint-by-the numbers 'zombie' movie which contains no characters worth caring about. There is no more immediacy of terror, no claustrophobia from the unflinching hand-held camera, and the added comedy in this entry falls flat at every instance it appears. Hopefully Jaume Balagueró's future solo entry into the series, the fourth and final film which also drops the 'found footage' angle, ends the series on a high note because this 'parallel story line' should be entirely avoided at all costs.

3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (2012) United States
Finally putting the nail in the coffin. Good riddance to this "franchise". The Twilight Saga is filled with nothing but vapid preaching of false hopes to pre-teen girls that vanity and the 'power' of love, along with a blingin' ring, is all one needs. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 takes what should be a 15 minute ending to the series and stretches it out painfully to 2 hours, filled with forced dialogue, forced "emotion", and some of the worst CGI in the history of cinema. All the answers one has from the previous films still remain unanswered: why do they do the "Flash" run all the time? How does no one notice giant wolf-dogs in the woods? Does no one else in the area hunt? Why does this story of three people who understand nothing but the longing of staring off into each other's eyes like they are constipated need to be five movies long? Breaking Dawn is fragmented pablum, that's it. Spoon-fed in the most innocuous method possible. Like a CGI'd smiling demon Gerber Baby consuming the tax payer's money. Ughhhh... And why did the end credits have to visually credit every character in the entire franchise, even those that stood in as placeholders such as "Irish Vampire named Maggie"? A saga alright... A saga of pure forced torture.

2. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) Germany/Canada
Resident Evil: Retribution is the closest film in the series to a video game. The acting is stilted, the dubbing doesn't match the lip movements, the emotions are completely lost or undeveloped, characters at times are confused to look like they might be CGI and not real, and it's nothing but mindless action with nothing moving it forward than to get to the end. But wait, it's not a video game, it's a movie, how can we the audience enjoy it if we can't play it? That's what a video game is right, we're in control of what goes on? And that is the hugest downfall of Resident Evil: Retribution where you take a film based on a video game series and make it as close to a video game as possible (but not the actual game). It does not work, it loses any connectivity you're going to make with an audience. Instead of plot points to move the film forward Retribution relies on 'levels' where Alice has to escape a new simulated city with a new foe, be it a plague of zombies or a giant biological abomination. It's repetitive, it's boring, it's pointless. The 3D again is just a gimmick, but the whole film is even more gimmicky than the 3D. Paul W.S. Anderson resorts to visually filling the screen rather then figuring out how anything fits together, an absolute hack job and cash grab. A complete waste of 2 hours of your time and $14 of your hard earned dollars.

1. That's My Boy (2012) United States
Grating, annoying, offensive, sloppy, poorly made, anti-funny.... These are just a few of the many negative remarks one could make about That's My Boy, another Happy Madison film that continues to kill the genre of comedy and destroy the history of cinema. Pepper in every single Adam Sandler joke rehashed for the -nth time (and still to this day absolutely unfunny), cast the same Sandler troupe all playing the same characters, and you've got nothing new, nothing entertaining, nothing redeemable, nothing worth the $70 million dollars this film was made for. But hey, you gotta pay for advertising and product placement galore, and insane paychecks to people who deserve to be doing comedy in a back alley seen by no one. HOW DOES THIS GET APPROVED? Even on a technical level this film looks like shit! The digital "cinematography" is hazy and either overexposed or under lit, and so this film assaults you on every sense and every plane. AVOID AT ALL COSTS. This isn't cinema suicide for the film and filmmakers, but for the audience. You've been warned!

All written contents copyright 2013 Tyler Baptist

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